JAMES FORD'S winning start to his York City Knights tenure had to end at some point - and did so with his team just ten minutes away from their first semi-final in 11 years.

After kicking off the season with two victories on the road, Ford was on course for a win back in the Minster city as his side led Newcastle Thunder 18-0 midway through the first half of their iPro Sport League One Cup quarter-final and 24-16 midway through the second.

But the increasing pressure being built by a resurgent Thunder outfit, aided by a penalty count weighted in their favour, ultimately broke the hosts' resistance, with former Knights stand-off Benn Hardcastle kicking a 70th-minute penalty to draw the visitors level and then adding two conversions and a second penalty in the last six minutes to see his side to a 38-24 triumph.

The last time York played a semi-final was in 2004, when they fell to Hull KR in the Arriva Trains Cup.

The iPro Sport Cup, ostensibly a pre-season competition for League One teams, does not carry the same kudos so defeat is not as galling, but it still would have been pretty good to close in on some more silverware so soon after last year's Championship One title success - and to brighten up dark days caused firstly by play-off pain and more recently by the community stadium saga that has left them homeless and needing to play this tie in front of a relatively small crowd at York RUFC's modest Clifton Park ground.

What Ford and co need to do now, though, is make sure lessons of this maiden defeat are learned in time for the start of the league campaign.

If club chiefs, by then, can somehow come to agreement with City of York Council to end the stadium shenanigans and get the club back into professional surroundings, then all the better.

The biggest lesson for this young Knights team - if they were lulled into a false sense of security by the victories over London Skolars and South Wales - is that winning the league will be harder this year than last.

Newcastle, on the up after the move from Gateshead and bolstered by overseas stars, are one of the teams tipped to contest the crown and showed why as they slowly cranked up the pressure to ultimately surge into the semi-finals.

York's first-half physicality, by contrast, fell away by the finale, as Thunder got a roll on aided by questionable refereeing calls piggy-backing them upfield, often at key times.

There were claims of a knock-on in the build-up to their second try and a controversial penalty preceded their fourth, before two more free-kicks - both conceded by the luckless Josh Tonks who had no idea what he'd done wrong - led to Hardcastle's equalising two-pointer.

By this point, the Knights were on their last legs and Newcastle sensed blood.

York had actually taken the lead on the back of two penalties of their own, with Liam Cunningham going close and Kriss Brining burrowing in.

Then ex-Knight Lee Mapals dropped a Pat Smith kick and, although York's initial touchdown was disallowed as the loose ball was also knocked on, from the scrum, Cunningham's strength and perseverance brought reward.

Newcastle hooker Charlie Wabo had a try ruled out when bumping the ball down before York got their third as a Smith grubber bounced over the defender and Nev Morrison won the chase. James Haynes' conversions made it 18-0.

However, a Jack Aldous fumble gave Newcastle possession in York’s half and Hardcastle bounced off tackles to jink in and convert - and turn the game.

Mapals atoned for his earlier error as he sped in for Newcastle's second, and it became three tries in 10 minutes as ex-Knight Rhys Clarke’s offload saw Jason Tali crash in just after half-time, Hardcastle goaling.

Newcastle's Kiwi full-back, Jordan Meads, came increasingly to the fore and was unlucky to have try ruled out for a double movement.

Thunder, though, had a reprieve of their own as winger Jamel Chisholm - battling what appeared to be several niggling injuries on his York debut - backed himself to beat the last man instead of finding support inside, and put a foot in touch.

Chisholm quickly made amends as he superbly patted back a Pat Smith kick which seemed to be sailing out of bounds, for Ed Smith to send Jonny Presley home, Haynes goaling.

The 24-16 lead still looked insecure, though, especially with the penalty count increasing.

After Mark Applegarth was harshly penalised, PNG prop Mark Mexico - anonymous in the first half but increasingly powerful in the second - crashed in for Hardcastle to convert.

Soon enough, Hardcastle kicked his side level and, with six minutes left, Jason Payne battled in to put the visitors ahead.

Hardcastle goaled again and did so again late on when an offload created a huge gap through which Wabo ran home.

A last-minute penalty merely rubbed salt into York's wounds.

Match facts

Knights: James Haynes 8, Jamel Chisholm 6, Liam Cunningham 7, Greg Minikin 6, Nev Morrison 7, Jonny Presley 6, Pat Smith 6, Mark Applegarth 6, Kriss Brining 6, Jack Pickles 6, Ed Smith 8, Josh Tonks 7, Jack Aldous 6. Subs (all used): Harry Carter 6, Colton Roche 7, Peter Aspinall 7, Luke Menzies 6.

Tries: Brining 6; Cunningham 9; Morrison 19; Presley 61.

Conversions: Haynes 6, 9, 19, 61 Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Newcastle: Jordan Meads, Lee Mapals, Jason Tali, Joe Brown, Tom Capper, Benn Hardcastle, Matty Beharell, Lee Fewlass, Charlie Wabo, Mark Mexico, Jason Payne, Rhys Clarke, Dayne Craig. Subs (all used): Sonny Esslemont, Louis Sheriffe, Josh Stoker, Paul Stamp.

Tries: Hardcastle 34; Mapals 39; Tali 44; Mexico 66; Payne 74; Wabo 79.

Conversions: Hardcastle 34, 44, 66, 74, 79.

Penalties: Hardcastle 70, 80.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Man of the match: James Haynes – just hours after he got engaged to his sweetheart, the full-back showed again what a good catch he is, but it wasn’t quite to be the perfect day.

Referee: Tom Crashley (Wakefield) – a very unpopular man come the final hooter, after a second half in which the penalty count stood at 9-3 in Newcastle’s favour.

Penalties: 8-14

Half-time: 18-10

Attendance: 358.

Weather: parky but pleasant.

Moment of the match: Jonny Presley’s high kick seemed to have bounced out of play but Jamel Chisholm leapt like a basketball player to pat it inside perfectly to Ed Smith, who sent a joyous Jonny Presley in to put York 24-16 up. That joy was short-lived, however.

Gaffe of the match: Jack Aldous doesn’t make many handling errors but when he dropped the ball inside his own half just after the half-half mark, it set the position for Benn Hardcastle’s try and a way back into the match for a Newcastle side who had been second best up to that point. In the 44 minutes that followed, the visitors scored 38 points to York’s six.

Gamebreaker: After Newcastle pulled the scores back to 24-22 with ten minutes remaining, the next score was always going to be vital. It was Thunder who had the roll on.

Match rating: York set off like a house on fire but, aided by penalties, Newcastle got a roll on which suggests improvements are necessary if this young Knights side are to contest the title this year.